Thursday, August 25, 2011

Guest Post by CJ Lyons: Jack be Kindle, Jack be Nook: What you need to succeed in E-pubbing

Unless you have been hiding under a rock, you have seen the name CJ Lyons in the eBook and publishing new feeds all over the internet. She has a book in the top 10 on Amazon right now and made it to #2 beating out Lee Child. This is no small thing and as a blogger and writer I want to not just talk all about eBooks and the new way to publish, but I want to give you real life examples of other authors doing it.

We have seen Amanda Hocking, john Locke, Vincent Zandri and others all hit the Amazon top 10 list and what happens after that is always fun to watch. CJ was kind enough to grace us with a post so here she is... Thanks again CJ.

Jack be Kindle, Jack be Nook: What you need to succeed in E-pubbing

Aaron asked me to tell you guys how I got my start as an Indy author/publisher. It's one of those a funny thing happened on the way…type of stories.
You see, I initially sold to a major NYC publisher. That book, my dream debut, was a nice hardcover deal, a pre-empt, and garnered cover quotes from a dozen NYC bestsellers, including Sandra Brown. The editor wanted the sequel and it was already in the production line when the first book, my debut, was pulled from publication.

Why? Cover art--something I had no control over. But it meant my dream debut had crashed and burned.

I'd already made a leap of faith and left my medical practice after 17 years to pursue my life-long dream of being a full-time writer. And suddenly I was unemployed with no contract.

So what did I do? I kept writing. A few months later another NYC publisher came to me and offered me even more money to create a new series for them, which led to the Angels of Mercy medical suspense books. With the first book, LIFELINES, I became a National Bestseller.

I was able to pay my bills with my writing but I had several manuscripts that had undergone revisions and edits with NYC editors but never made it to publication for a variety of reasons--including those first two books. It nagged at me that these were books that had passed muster with NYC but the reading public would never see.
Then came Kindle. And Smashwords. And Nook.

Being a total cyber-klutz, I wasn't sure I'd be able to learn how to format and submit manuscripts, but with the help of Mark Coker's Smashword Guide, I mastered it. And so, by January 2010, I had four books on Kindle.

(new to e-book formatting? I made a short video walking you through the basics. You can find it here:
I'd done my homework and read folks like JA Konrath who were true pioneers with self e-pubbing, but I was skeptical about his advice on pricing books at $1.99. So I priced mine between $2.99 and $4.99.

Then the Haiti earthquake struck. I decided since this was all an experiment anyway, I'd have nothing to lose by giving away my proceeds to Doctors Without Borders' relief efforts. In one month I sold 1800 e-books and was feeling pretty good about myself.

Even better was when the reviews began coming in. Not just from readers but from some wonderful bloggers who'd discovered my e-books.

I had several more manuscripts finished, so I hired a freelance editor who'd worked with NYT bestsellers and an artist to create new covers for all my books. By the end of 2010 I had eight books up, with fans clamoring for more, and was poised to make more in a year from my indy e-books than from my NYC contracts.

All this without any advertising other than listing the books on my website and including them in my monthly newsletter.

I continued to experiment with a variety of price points and for the first time ever, actually was able to track sales to see what worked and what didn't--something NYC publishing could take a lesson from! After discovering that one of my books, SNAKE SKIN, had great reviews but lackluster sales, I decided to experiment with giving it away in an effort to help it find its readership.

Giving away books has always been my main promotional effort. Before e-books, I would buy extra copies of my print books and mail them to my newsletter subscribers as special reader appreciation gifts. Now I routinely give away e-books and have built a Street Team of fans eager for a chance to read and review my new books.
(interested in how it works? You can find more info here:

Smashwords allows you to give a book away for free, but Kindle and Nook don't. So I set SNAKE SKIN for free on Smashwords and around three weeks later the free price finally propagated to Amazon. I woke up on Saturday morning to find 5,000 people had SNAKE SKIN on their Kindles.

Within 48 hours that number climbed to over 24,000 and at my agent's urging, I changed the price to 0.99. By the end of the month almost 40,000 people had downloaded SNAKE SKIN. Not only had SNAKE SKIN found its readership but sales of the rest of my books increased by 280%

I didn't like the 0.99 price as a full-time price because I thought it was "cheap" and under-valued my work. BUT as a special sale price it certainly was effective--gaining me new readers without losing me any money.

That was on a book that wasn't selling well. Could I risk reducing the price of my bestselling book, the one that paid the mortgage, from $4.99 to 0.99?

I decided it was worth a try. So for a limited time, my bestseller, BLIND FAITH, is on sale for 0.99. I don't know what will happen as far as long term sales, but in the first three weeks I've sold over 35, 000 copies, hit #1 on the Amazon Indie Bestseller list and #2 on the overall Kindle Bestseller list, so I'm pretty darned pleased.

What was the trick? I didn't do any big time promo for the BLIND FAITH sale. Just my normal newsletter and a few tweets and website/Facebook updates. So I can't take credit for this surge of sales.

I think it was a question of SNAKE SKIN already being on a roll, allowing everyone who viewed or bought it to see my name. Plus BLIND FAITH has a great cover and already had stellar reviews, so building on SNAKE SKIN's momentum was easier for it than an unknown book.

Could someone with only one book do this? Honestly, I think it would be very difficult. I'm learning that with online sales momentum builds more momentum until you reach a tipping point. You need plenty of books in your arsenal (I'd recommend at least 5-6) so that you can keep the momentum rolling from one book to the next.
No fancy tricks, no sleazy sales techniques, no expensive ads or trailers or sponsorships. Just readers who resonate with my brand of Thrillers with Heart and keeping an eye on my sales trends, ready to make those price adjustments when need be.

(in my mind, I imagine log rollers dancing across timber streaming down whitewater rapids—try that, NYC publishing conglomerates!)

Bottom line if you want to achieve success as an Indy: be nimble, be quick, be fearless. And never forget: it's ALL about the reader!

Thanks for reading!

About CJ:

As a pediatric ER doctor, CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge thrillers. In addition to being an award-winning, bestselling author, CJ is a nationally known presenter and keynote speaker.

CJ has been called a "master within the genre" (Pittsburgh Magazine) and her work has been praised as "breathtakingly fast-paced" and "riveting" (Publishers Weekly) with "characters with beating hearts and three dimensions" (Newsday).

Her newest project is as co-author of a new suspense series with Erin Brockovich. Learn more about her writing at and find the tools you need to help you finish your novel and find your audience at

Author Aaron Patterson: Blog: The Worst Book Ever.


  1. Great blog, CJ. I love the way you think. I've bookmarked it for future reference. Congratulations on your great success!

  2. This is all good. I'm stoked for you, CJ, and looking forward to joining the ranks of successful indie authors the world over. Thanks for the illuminating how-to.

  3. Nice work CJ...It's always inspiring to see a talent follow the dream no matter the obstacle. I hope I've done the same in my own humble way. The path is always before us so it's a never ending journey and often you don't know what lurks around the next corner, but I wouldn't have it any other way.